Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Lal Mahra: Who sleeps here?

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Going by the opulence of the blue tiles and elegant cut-brick work, locals believe the funerary monuments contain the mortal remains of some important Mughal king and his retinue. History that would normally have another tale to tell, in this case however is silent. And the silence is resounding.


What is today farmland because of the canals that now criss-cross the area, was nothing but scrub desert as little as seven decades ago. But back in the 13th century when population was a mere fraction compared to today, this arid region of Dera Ismail Khan would have been uninhabited desert. Through this desert passed the ancient Hashtnagar (Peshawar)-Multan thoroughfare and the tombs locally known as Adhira or the Mughal tombs of Lal Mahra lie just off the old road to the west.

The mausoleums today number just four, each containing multiple graves while in the area between the two structures to the west are a number of simple graves in the open. The blue sign of the Department of Archaeology however tells us that there were once eleven mausoleums. The seven that are no more, appear to have been lost to natural causes.

The mausoleums are square in plan with tapering turrets at the four corners and are decorated, on the exterior as well as the interior, with blue glazed tiles, cut brick and terra-cotta tiles. These latter bear various designs cut into them and are finished with a rather coarse blue glazing. The interiors bear the same adornment, but the cenotaphs are simple arrangements of baked bricks some of which have blue glazing. In contrast, those in the open are somewhat more decorated.

Though all the four structures are now without domes, the stubby remnants of the drums where they sprung are the only reminders that once the domes were complete. Inside, stylish squinches, some decorated with blue tiles others simple, give an eight-sided shape to the square plan of the tomb to form the base of the drum for the dome.

We see the tapering corner turrets with similar blue tile work of a much richer and more developed form in the 14th century tomb of Rukne Alam in Multan, a building celebrated as an exponent of early Muslim architecture in India. It is therefore easy to draw one basic conclusion: that the tombs of Lal Mahra are of an earlier period. That is, these tombs may date back to the second half of the 13th century. This was the fag end of the rule of Ghias ud Din Balban, the last of the Slave Kings of India.

This was also the period of repeated forays into the subcontinent by the descendents of Chengez Khan and we know that Balban appointed his favourite son Mohammad to ward off the Mongols. It was against the Central Asians that this prince lost his life in 1285 in the vicinity of Multan. That was a major battle; we do not know of the many skirmishes that other important princes may have fought against the invaders in other areas.


It is right likely that about that same time another clash took place in the region of Lal Mahra – an action that never made it to the history books. The Mongols may have been discomfited and expelled beyond the Suleman Mountains, but not without considerable loss to the Sultan’s army. Only victors build funerary monuments for their heroes, and so Delhi apparently continued its hold over this area. The tombs at Lal Mahra are therefore silent pointers to a battle forgotten by history.

How To Get There: Take the Indus Highway (N-55) south from Dera Ismail Khan. At exactly 42 km from the city (172 km north of Dera Ghazi Khan), turn right (westward) along a minor irrigation channel. At 5.7 km from the highway turn left and go about 500 metres. The stubby buildings are visible to the right.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 9:12 AM,

4 Comments:

At March 19, 2014 at 11:31 AM, Anonymous Amardeep Singh said...

What a beautiful mausoleum

 
At March 19, 2014 at 12:03 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Amardeep, the whole complex is beautiful with similar buildings.

 
At November 15, 2015 at 1:21 AM, Blogger Ali Gohar said...

Finally, here is something one can enjoy and learn about a place little know to most of us. In Feb 2016 I plan to go to Pakistan, and if feasible I might attempt to travel to this sight. I hope transport to the site from D I Khan would be not pose any problem.

 
At November 15, 2015 at 8:45 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

No problem getting there. Hire a car at Dera Ismail Khan.

 

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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

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